Promoting his new book during an interview with NBC host Matt Lauer that aired on the network last night, President Bush defended his decision to authorize the waterboarding of terror suspects during his administration. Bush said it “saved lives” and was legal “[b]ecause the lawyer said it was legal.” “I am not a lawyer,” he added, “but you got to trust the judgment of people around you.” The Times of London reports that Bush reveals in his book that waterboarding “helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.”
However, the Times also reports today that British officials dispute the assertion that waterboarding saved lives:
A former British government minister has cast doubt on President Bush’s claims that torturing terror suspects prevented terror attacks on London as Number 10 disputed his assertion that waterboarding does not constitute torture.
[Foreign Office minister] Kim Howells said he was not convinced that plots to attack Heathrow and Canary Wharf were foiled because of information obtained by waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and one other high profile suspect in Guantánamo Bay. […] “I don’t think there was any doubt there were real plots,” Mr Howells told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “Where I doubt what President Bush has said is that this, what we regard as torture, actually produced information which was instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition. I’m not convinced of that.”
At the same time Downing Street said the Government still considered waterboarding — or simulated drowning — to be torture. “It comes under that definition in our view,” a spokesman said.
Although Bush claims that waterboarding is legal, he seems a bit uncomfortable saying that it can be used on Americans. When Lauer asked if it is legal for foreigners to waterboard Americans, both in and out of military uniform, Bush refused to answer:
LAUER: So if it’s legal, President Bush, and if an American is taken into custody in a foreign country, not necessarily a uniformed American.
BUSH: Look, I am not going to debate the issue, Matt. I really —
LAUER: I’m just asking. Would it be OK for a foreign country to waterboard an American soldier?
BUSH: It’s – all I ask is that people read the book. And they can reach the same conclusion if they would have made the same decision I made or not.
“Waterboarding is torture; torture is illegal under international law,” said Amnesty International’s Steve Ballinger. “So President Bush’s statement is an admission that a crime has been committed.” Tom Porteous, the UK Director of Human Rights Watch said, “There is no point having international justice for petty African dictators if you can’t apply it to the leaders of powerful countries like the US. … “I’m not saying that [Bush’s] claim that torture evidence prevented terror attacks has no credibility whatsoever, but no evidence has been presented.”